Taylor Swift has returned to her roots.
After releasing songs in the past few years with lyrics like “f*** the patriarchy” and “Why are you mad? / When you could be GLAAD?” her latest album is largely a return to pre-2018 Swift, one who wasn’t “obsessed with politics” and one who sang about universal experiences: heartbreak, longing, and falling in love.
Swift usually catches flak for being too formulaic: singing about break ups and romance, more break ups and more romance. There’s no shortage of that type of thing in her latest album, Midnights, which tells “the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout [Swift’s] life.” But there’s a reason this formula made Swift so popular.
Following two re-releases of older albums and the folksy Evermore and Folklore, Midnights sounds like the old Taylor: impishly self-deprecating and self-aware, filled with tales of regret and young love and revenge.
On “Anti-Hero,” the only song so far to get a music video, Swift delivers what is clearly meant to become a viral millennial anthem. “I have this thing where I get older, but just never wiser,” she sings in the intro, building up to a self-effacing chorus: “It’s me, hi / I’m the problem, it’s me.”
Her lyrics stand out because of their relatability, not exactly their poetry. When she rhymes “devices,” “prices,” “vices,” and “crisis” in the space of three lines, followed by another three lines that manage to cram together “screaming,” “dreaming,” “leaving,” and “scheming,” it feels a bit overwrought.
But her 20- to 30-something millennial fans — who have followed the 32-year-old’s career since she released her debut album at age 16 — will relate to lyrics like “Did you hear my covert narcissism / I disguise as altruism like some kind of congressman?”
“Anti-Hero” may be the headliner, but it’s certainly not the star. Just three hours after Midnights’ release, Swift revealed Midnights (3am Edition), containing seven more songs — and the best one on the album.
If her lyricism falters in her songs designed for more popular appeal, it shines through at the most unassuming times.
For better or for worse, Swift’s music is usually about her: how a particular ex has broken her heart, the media abuses her, how she would be more successful if she were a man. But in “Bigger Than the Whole Sky,” Swift appears to take on the perspective of a grieving mother.
“Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye / You were bigger than the whole sky / You were more than just a short time / And I’ve got a lot to pine about, I’ve got a lot to live without,” she sings.
While the song could be about any number of things, from mourning the person she could have been to the loss of a relationship, many listeners have speculated that it’s about grieving a miscarriage.
“I’m never gonna meet / What could’ve been, would’ve been / What should’ve been you / What could’ve been, would’ve been you,” Swift sings.
The song resonated with many women: Lila Rose, president of the pro-life group LiveAction, tweeted that the song had her thinking of her own miscarriage. “The missing never fully goes away,” she said. “Not sure if that’s what you intended the song to be about, Taylor, but thank you for writing this.”
Swift has never said anything about experiencing a miscarriage, but, according to one listener, she “once said she wanted people to have a song for every moment of their life.”
“Bigger Than the Whole Sky” grasps at the universality of grief — but only by describing a specific experience, so beautifully written that it could only be about something the author has seen up close.
Elsewhere on the album, Swift appears to sing about past relationships with celebrities from Calvin Harris to John Mayer. On “Lavender Haze,” she focuses on current beau Joe Alwyn, whom she has been dating for six years. If you’re thinking that’s a long time to be in a relationship with no ring in sight, you’re in good company. Swift responds to engagement rumors and questions by complaining about “the 1950s s*** they want from me,” singing, “All they keep asking me / Is if I’m gonna be your bride / The only kinda girl they see / Is a one night or a wife.”
“Lavender Haze” is a love song, with the title referring to a 1950s phrase describing an “all-encompassing love glow.” Swift says in an Instagram video that the song is about ignoring the tabloids’ headline-chasing “to protect the real stuff.” It’s admirable that Swift wants to protect her relationship from the unrelenting gaze of the chattering class, but this song might have been more fitting a few years ago.
Now, it leaves one wondering what’s so retrograde about marrying someone you’ve spent over half a decade with. Is it the institution of marriage itself? Or is this about preserving her image as a pop star, which wouldn’t be quite the same if she were to become a “bride”?
Despite its drawbacks, Midnights is a refreshing return to form for Taylor Swift. Even her lust for revenge on “Vigilante S***” seems more subdued than it was in her 2017 album, Reputation.
At her best, Swift isn’t trying to weigh in on political controversies or create high-brow art. She’s singing as a millennial woman for millennial women, even though her audience is much bigger than that. When she released Midnights, Swift broke two Spotify records, releasing the most-streamed album in a single day and becoming the service’s most-streamed artist in a single day.
Her music has always resonated with her listeners. She doesn’t have to change anything for that to remain true.
Madeline Fry Schultz (@madelineefry) is the assistant contributors editor at the Washington Examiner.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.